How to Spot Skin Cancer


Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. Fortunately, it is also one of the easiest forms of cancer to detect if you know how to spot it.

“Skin examinations can be lifesaving,” says Dr. Holly Gunn, medical director of the Dermatology, Aesthetic and Laser Center at St. Elizabeth Physicians in Florence. “You can even save yourself, a family member’s, or a friend’s life if you know what to look for when it comes to skin cancer.”

There are many types of skin cancer. About 3.3 million Americans are diagnosed with basal and squamous cell skin cancers each year, according to the American Cancer Society. Melanoma will account for another 76,380 cases of skin cancer in 2016 alone. One person in the United States will die of melanoma every hour.

While your doctor can check your skin carefully during a routine cancer-related check-up, it is also a good idea to periodically conduct a self-exam, says Gunn.   Look at your skin in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. Use a hand-held mirror to check hard-to-see areas. Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, can start anywhere on your skin. Even those areas not exposed to sunlight.


You can use  the “ABCDE rule” to look for some of the common signs of melanoma:

Asymmetry: One part of a mole or birthmark doesn’t match the other.

Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.

Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.

Diameter: The spot is larger than ¼ inch across ““ about the size of a pencil eraser.

Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.

Not all melanomas follow the ABCDE rule, however. Other signs can include:

  • Any new spots
  • Any spot that doesn’t look like others on your body
  • Any sore that doesn’t heal
  • Redness or new swelling beyond the border of the mole
  • Itching, pain, or tenderness
  • Oozing, scaliness, or bleeding

Gunn says to watch for out for a spot on your body that is significantly different from the rest of the spots on your body.   “We call this the ‘ugly duckling’ sign,” she says. “The second most important sign is the ‘growing too fast’ sign,” she says.  If any spot on your body changes from one month to the next that is too fast.

“If you see something that concerns you talk to your primary doctor to see if you need to see the dermatologist for removal,” she says, “And remember to have fun in the sun. But also wear your sunscreen SPF 30 or higher and reapply every two hours to decrease your risk of skin cancer.”

Learn more about melanoma tomorrow at Fountain Square for Melanoma Awareness Day from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Local  experts will be on-site to discuss the importance of sun safety, skin cancer awareness and prevention, and more.   The event will also feature a local band, Room for Zero, and a brief program highlighting local area melanoma warriors. May is Melanoma Awareness Month.